Choosing a machete is actually a complicated process. You really just can’t grab the closest one and start swinging….well, I guess you could, but you may find yourself unable to cut the vegetation in front of you.
You certainly may find that your first choice isn’t very efficient at all. That’s because, like all types of gear, you need to pick the right machete for the job, or more precisely, you need to pick the right machete for the task at hand. There are over 20 different machete blade styles, all with a unique design for a specific cutting task.
This list of machetes covers my top choices for best machetes for clearing brush and trail clearing.
Machetes are one of the oldest types of tools that mankind has been using, and this is one of the reasons we see so many different styles out there. Early civilizations developed their own unique design based on their environment. Some are meant to do everything, some are meant to help with the harvesting of crops, and some are meant to slash your way through dense jungle. I recently reviewed the Schrade Brush Sword here, it’s another great option for dense vegetation.
We recently started building some mountain bike trails on a large tract of land a friend owns. The property has lowland swamp, open fields and meadows, as well as huge areas of hardwood with a brushy understory.
I have personally used each machete on this list, and I don’t mean just taking a few swings in a store. I have spent hours cutting my way through the woods, swinging each of these for some time. I know what each feels like in the hand, what they are capable of, and if they are worth the asking price.
This list of machetes covers my top choices for trail work. For this type of task, we needed a machete that could cut and chop small trees and branches, clear away brambles and thorns, and also cut down saplings and brush. In our area of South Carolina (where we were doing the majority of the backwoods work) the landscape is full of scrub pine, oak, hickory, and tons of underbrush. Our work was cut out for us!
Do you need a long blade or short bladed machete?
Of all the large choppers and machetes I own, the following have become my go-to choices for building trails and clearing brush. So, if you are looking for solid choices in a machete that can be effective cutting trees, undergrowth and brush, you can’t go wrong with these choices.
A quick note about machetes for clearing brush: the longer the blade, the further the reach. If you are doing an excessive amount of hacking and cutting, you will find a longer blade length can save you from stooping and bending and therefore you’ll have less strain on your back. Trust me on this; I speak from experience.
Coming in at just over 16” total, this guy is a powerhouse of fury! I found the Cutlass to be a monster when it came to cutting and chopping wood. It was almost as effective as a hatchet. The blade is traction coated (a rough paint similar to a bedliner coating) and will offer some corrosion resistance.
The bigger belly at the end gives it nice chopping power and it was definitely a slicer when it came to clearing brush. Out of the box it’s probably one of the sharpest machetes I have. I really like the poly handle; it’s not too big to wear out your grip and offers solid purchase when in hand.
It comes with a halfway decent sheath and a dangler attachment. I normally don’t wear a machete on my belt, but since we were traveling in the woods for long periods, I opted to fasten it to my belt. I definitely appreciated the sheath and the easy-in, easy-out that it offered.
This is one heck of a machete and can also be used as a large survival knife.
Cold Steel Kukri
One feature I really like on a knife (big or small) is a spot to rest my forefinger. Many machetes don’t have a contoured handle and I worry about choking up too much and cutting or smashing my finger. That’s one reason I really love this machete….that and the fact that it’s an absolute monster when it comes to chopping and blazing a path through the woods.
It excels in thick vegetation and is a competent wood chopper. The blade is thinner than many traditional kukri knives allowing it to breeze through vines and branches. The curved shape allows an awesome transfer of power from your swing into whatever you are cutting.
The Cold Steel has become a family favorite because of its size and lighter weight. It really feels great, even when swinging and chopping for long periods. The Cold Steel has a molded poly handle that’s easy to grip but still lets you feel the vibrations of the strike.
This one falls right into the middle of the price spectrum and you can grab these for around $30. I have to say, it’s a tremendous value for what you get. It’s definitely something that can handle hard use and can tackle other smaller cutting tasks if needed.
This one is best for big swings and will clear a lot of brush with each stroke.
If there was a surprise of the bunch, then this was it. I had seen this guy hanging in the tool section at Lowes for a long time, but my past experience with cheap machetes from big box stores always ended in frustration. Then I saw a video review and some message board comments on how terrific this was, so I decided to give it a try.
I was impressed. The Tramontina is your traditional machete and what you would envision when you hear the word machete. It’s not fancy, but it’s well constructed for the money and performs amazing. Now, a machete in this style is not for chopping trees and processing wood, it’s for grass, brambles and thin vegetation, and it performs as such.
Swinging it made you feel like a ninja. It sliced down leafy greens and small branches with ease. The longer blade length gives you more reach, and it’s fairly light so swinging it for hours shouldn’t be a problem.
The sheath is only fair, but for the money you can’t expect much. The belt loop is just some thin nylon with rivets, but it’s strong. On the other hand, it’s definitely a notch above the normal bargain-bin, flimsy machete you buy at a big box store.
For the money, you should buy one as a backup or extra tool. I actually carried this on my belt along with my main machete just because it was so light and effective.
Condor Bushcraft Parang
If you need an all-around great machete, then this is for you. It’s on the heavier side and this makes it more suited for chopping trees and heavy brush, but it will get through the small stuff too. Condor makes several machetes that bear the name Parang, but this one (the Bushcraft Parang) is different from the others because of its molded, polypropylene handle and fierce convex blade grind.
The handle is contoured ‘just right’ as far as I’m concerned, and it also offers a thumb/finger rail to stop you from choking up too much. Like the others, it has a lanyard hole and comes with a sheath. The sheath is made from heavy duty nylon with a strong belt loop. I found it rides at the perfect height when on the hip.
If you don’t already know, the grind of the blade on a machete has a lot to do with how it cuts and what it cuts effectively. Without going into a huge discussion on blade grinds, the Bushcraft Parang has a more blunt grind to it, similar to a small hatchet. This is why it’s able to blast through wood so well….and also why it doesn’t cut grassy stuff as thoroughly. This is a perfect example of why you need to know what you’ll be up against when you’re choosing which machete to use.
If you need more of a chopper, this is the one to get. Using a machete for a long time will really open your eyes as to how versatile they are. With a machete like the Condor, you could get away without carrying an axe or hatchet and using this guy instead.
A heavy duty beast that feels good in the hand.
I picked up the Golok a while back because I was looking for a machete that could really cut through brush, had a longer reach, and could chop some thicker stuff if needed. The Condor Golak delivers on all of these fronts! When it comes to machete shopping, it’s hard not to mention Condor. First, they have what seems like 200 different types of machetes, and second, they are priced right. You get a lot for your money, no matter how you look at it. You can always find something effective for a little less, but many Condor products have an added flair in style or use better materials. This is the case with the Golok: it’s a beautiful machete from the walnut handles to the tip of the very sharp 1075 steel blade.
The Golok is the whole package: the workmanship is top notch, it includes a very nice sheath, it’s a beauty to behold, and, quite obviously, it’s a workhorse. I found myself reaching for it more often than many other machetes I have. When we were building our mountain bike trails we had to rotate through over 15 different machetes….but all of us wanted to use the Golok.
I do have one issue (and this might just be personal) and it’s that the handle is a little on the bigger side of the spectrum and I found it was giving me ‘grip fatigue’ faster than the others. Now, I am not sure if that’s a technical term in the knife world, but all of us had the same opinion. Still, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker considering how the Golok performs overall.
The design lends itself for more twiggy and brushy vegetation, but it was also able to take down small trees fairly easily. (A small tree is something I consider 6” in diameter or less.) This is another machete that makes you feel like a Samurai; it slices away all day.
Great reach and extremely sharp. It could be your one and only machete if needed.
So how did I come up with these five machetes? After spending several hours blazing trails and handling a whole slew of machetes, these five were the best all-around performers. Each one on the list was sharp out of the box, had a decent enough sheath, and was able to hack, cut, and slice through a wide variety of vegetation. These hours also highlighted how important handle comfort is, something I think we can overlook because really, how many of us hack away at underbrush for 5-6 hours at a time?
You would be well served with any of my choices.
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his clients websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.